Florida school shooting: Ex-student Nikolas Cruz charged over 17 deaths

  • Updated
  • 16/02/2018

After killing 17 people at his former high school, gunman Nikolas Cruz stopped off at McDonald's, police say.

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel told a press conference on Thursday (local time) that Cruz fled the school after the shooting.

He tried to mix in with students to hide as he visited fast food stores. He bought a drink at Subway then went to McDonald's.

However after he left the McDonald's he was identified and arrested by a police officer.

Cruz, a 19-year-old who had been expelled from his Florida high school, has been charged with 17 counts of murder, suspected of unleashing one of the deadliest school shootings in US history.

On Wednesday Nikolas Cruz walked into the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland and opened fire on students and teachers, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said. Police believe he acted alone.

Cruz was armed with an AR-15-style rifle and had multiple ammunition magazines when he surrendered to officers in a nearby residential area, police said. He loved guns and was expelled for unspecified disciplinary reasons, police said.

His court appointed-lawyer said Cruz had expressed remorse for his crimes.

However the leader of a racist organisation that wants Florida to be a homeland for whites has confirmed the suspect in Florida's high school mass shooting was a member.

Nikolas Cruz appears via video monitor with Melisa McNeill, his court-appointed lawyer.
Nikolas Cruz appears via video monitor with Melisa McNeill, his court-appointed lawyer. Photo credit: Reuters

"He's a broken human being," public defender Melisa McNeill told reporters. "He's sad, he's mournful, he's remorseful."

Cruz himself only spoke two words,"yes ma'am," when asked to confirm his name.

He was held without bond.

Member of white hate group

White nationalist Jordan Jereb told the Associated Press said Cruz had participated in paramilitary drills in Tallahassee with his group, the Republic of Florida.

But he distanced his group from Cruz' actions, saying he "acted on his own behalf of what he just did and he's solely responsible for what he just did".

Mr Jereb also said Cruz had "trouble with a girl", and suggested the timing of the attack - Valentine's Day - wasn't a coincidence.

FBI knew about Cruz five months ago

It's emerged the FBI received a tip about a YouTube user with the same name as Nikolas Cruz back in September 2017.

US vlogger Ben Bennight noticed the comment, which apparently said "I'm going to be a professional school shooter", while trawling through YouTube five months ago, and notified the FBI about it.

FBI special agent Robert Lasky said no other information was associated to the comment which may have indicated "a time, location or the true identity of the person that made the comment".

"The FBI conducted database reviews [and] checks but was unable to further identify the person who actually made the comment."

Mr Bennight's tip was one of at least two reports the FBI received about Cruz, though it's not known when the other one was made.

Second-deadliest public school shooting

The shooting is the 18th in a US school this year, according to gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety.

It was the second deadliest shooting in a US public school after the 2012 massacre of 20 first-graders and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.

The deadliest school shooting in US history was at Virginia Tech in 2007, when 32 people were killed.

The Florida shootings stirred the long-simmering US debate on the right to bear arms, which are protected by the Second Amendment of the US Constitution.

Schools across the country have installed electronically secured doors and added security staff, but few legislative solutions have emerged.

"So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior," US President Donald Trump tweeted.

"Neighbours and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!"

Hundreds of panicked students fled the building, running past heavily armed, helmeted police officers while others huddled in closets.

Parents raced to the school of 3300 students and a nearby hotel that was set up as a checkpoint to find their children.

The assailant wore a gas mask as he stalked into the school carrying a rifle, ammunition cartridges and smoke grenades, then pulled a fire alarm, prompting students and staff to pour from classrooms into hallways, according to Florida's two US senators, who were brief by federal authorities.

Cruz had recently moved in with another family after his mother's death in November, according to Jim Lewis, a lawyer representing the family, bringing his AR-15 along with his other belongings.

The family believed Cruz was depressed, but attributed that to his mother's death, not mental illness.

"They didn't see any danger. They didn't see any kind of predilection this was going to happen," Mr Lewis told CNN.

A chilling cell phone video broadcast by CBS News showed the shooting in progress from inside a classroom.

Several students were huddled or lying on the floor surrounded by mostly empty desks.

A rapid series of loud gunshots are heard along with hysterical screaming.

Reuters / Newshub.

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